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Just the Facts: Social Media, Back to the Future

New media are actually older than old media, the historic exception.

November 8, 2013

Ancient Akkadian diplomatic letter tablet found in Egypt. (via Wikimedia)

1. The era of top-down mass media will turn out to have been an exception to this rule.

2. The historic rule is that social media are the ways in which people get and share information.

3. The mass media era dates from the founding of the New York Sun in the 1830s as the first penny newspaper. Readers became consumers of information and advertisements.

4. Advertising-driven mass-media is the opposite of social media, through which people create, distribute and share information.

5. In the first century B.C., wealthy Romans kept up with news from around the empire through letters written on papyrus scrolls.

6. Julius Caesar, not unlike Angela Merkel with her texting, was known for being able to dictate several letters at once.

7. Romans used rectangular wax tablets that resembled iPads for shorter messages. Poorer Romans scribbled messages on walls.

8. Roman statesman and orator Marcus Tullius Cicero relied on person-to-person communication, “Whether you have any news or not, write something.”

9. Cicero was happy to have his views shared, like Tweets and Facebook posts today.

10. Change agents from Martin Luther to Thomas Paine relied on social media for communicating about a shared desire for social change. Social media played this role in the Arab Spring.

From @Cicero Would Have Loved Twitter by L. Gordon Crovitz (Wall Street Journal)




Mass media as we know it dates only to the 1830s with the New York Sun.

Historically, news and information has been transmitted via written messages between individuals.

The Roman Empire's predominant news media system was papyrus letters among the far-flung elites.

Early forms of "social media" have been used for social change by Martin Luther, Thomas Paine, etc.